Dark Skies

Light is enshrined deep in our consciousness and our language as a thing to be sought. It stands in metaphor for safety, knowledge and spiritual salvation. No wonder it is such a latecomer to the list of statutory nuisances. Meanwhile moonlight fades in landscapes of permanant half light. The stars are going out. We don’t notice at first, concerned as we are with the requirements of the insurance company and the winter walk home from the bus stop. Light is seen as a solution not a problem. We do not even weigh the benefit against the cumulative loss.

Never the less we are beginning to realise –  it is dawning on us –  that darkness is worth preserving. The North Wessex Downs A.O.N.B. Management Plan includes, among its ambitions for the future, the preservation of ” pools of dark skies over the central downland blocks” because they contribute to our sense of remoteness and tranquility. ” Darkness at night is one of the things that defines the countryside… Darkness allows the majesty of the skies and stars to be seen away from the pinky orange glow that now spreads for miles outside towns and cities blotting out the sight of thousands of stars and our own galaxy – The Milky Way. ”

The Council for the Protection of Rural England has taken up the cause in practical ways encouraging us to shield our lighting against upward spillage as well as urging the governments attention to the problem. Most persuasively it has published satellite images of our shrinking pools of darkness over the last 10 years. Reproduced here with permission from the C.P.R.E. the diagrams show the glow of light following settlement patterns along the Vale of Pewsey and the A4 corridor west of Marlborough. Our own villages can be identified. Even so, we are in the lucky minority, for the time being. Nearby the Milky Way still streams across the sky. We can follow the seasons in the drift of constellations. On a moonless night we can make out our neighbour the Andromeda Galaxy. Darkness gives us the universe, and if we are not too absent minded to preserve it, our children will look up at the same glittering splendour, and Twinkle Twinkle will make sense.